THE SANDY BOTTOM ORCHESTRA

As with Keillor's Lake Wobegon monologues, this tale of a Wisconsin teenager meeting adolescence head-on wanders amiably past daydreams, a vivid—sometimes unruly—cast, and the ups and downs in a very small town. In this team's first novel for young readers, chapters open and close in Rachel's life as she finishes eighth grade: Scott, met in music class, makes friendly overtures; her best friend, Carol, drifts away; the option of leaving town for an arts-oriented boarding school in the autumn comes up in family discussions, and she is invited to play violin in a summer orchestra—for money! The approach of Dairy Days, the town's Fourth of July celebration, brings successive crises, and Rachel ultimately finds herself part of an orchestra for which her fiery, chain-smoking mother is the pianist and her gentle father, the conductor—even though his previous experience with the baton has been entirely in front of the CD player. Rachel displays a winning mixture of courage and confusion as she makes her way through a first date, encounters with adults of various temperaments, and rehearsals with often-frisky fellow musicians. Nicely timed observations and frequent flights of fancy keep the tone wry and low-key, but there is nothing restrained about the closing's fireworks, blasting cannon, and soaring 1812 Overture. The parts may be more memorable than the sum, and adult characters more sharply drawn than the young ones, but Rachel's uncertainties and anxieties are explored with a sure touch, and the setting is totally convincing. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-7868-0173-5

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1996

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RAMONA'S WORLD

Ramona returns (Ramona Forever, 1988, etc.), and she’s as feisty as ever, now nine-going-on-ten (or “zeroteen,” as she calls it). Her older sister Beezus is in high school, baby-sitting, getting her ears pierced, and going to her first dance, and now they have a younger baby sister, Roberta. Cleary picks up on all the details of fourth grade, from comparing hand calluses to the distribution of little plastic combs by the school photographer. This year Ramona is trying to improve her spelling, and Cleary is especially deft at limning the emotional nuances as Ramona fails and succeeds, goes from sad to happy, and from hurt to proud. The grand finale is Ramona’s birthday party in the park, complete with a cake frosted in whipped cream. Despite a brief mention of nose piercing, Cleary’s writing still reflects a secure middle-class family and untroubled school life, untouched by the classroom violence or the broken families of the 1990s. While her book doesn’t match what’s in the newspapers, it’s a timeless, serene alternative for children, especially those with less than happy realities. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 1999

ISBN: 0-688-16816-7

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1999

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Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read.

MOMENTOUS EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

From the Life of a Cactus series

In the sequel to Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus (2017), Aven Green confronts her biggest challenge yet: surviving high school without arms.

Fourteen-year-old Aven has just settled into life at Stagecoach Pass with her adoptive parents when everything changes again. She’s entering high school, which means that 2,300 new kids will stare at her missing arms—and her feet, which do almost everything hands can (except, alas, air quotes). Aven resolves to be “blasé” and field her classmates’ pranks with aplomb, but a humiliating betrayal shakes her self-confidence. Even her friendships feel unsteady. Her friend Connor’s moved away and made a new friend who, like him, has Tourette’s syndrome: a girl. And is Lando, her friend Zion’s popular older brother, being sweet to Aven out of pity—or something more? Bowling keenly depicts the universal awkwardness of adolescence and the particular self-consciousness of navigating a disability. Aven’s “armless-girl problems” realistically grow thornier in this outing, touching on such tough topics as death and aging, but warm, quirky secondary characters lend support. A few preachy epiphanies notwithstanding, Aven’s honest, witty voice shines—whether out-of-reach vending-machine snacks are “taunting” her or she’s nursing heartaches. A subplot exploring Aven’s curiosity about her biological father resolves with a touching twist. Most characters, including Aven, appear white; Zion and Lando are black.

Those preparing to “slay the sucktastic beast known as high school” will particularly appreciate this spirited read. (Fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4549-3329-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Sterling

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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